Hockey Analytics: Shot Mechanic Assessment

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Gus Katsaros
·7 min read
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.



About all that you’ll get about the trade that sent Pierre Luc-Dubois to Winnipeg and Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic to Columbus, is don’t sleep on Roslovic. But that’s another post for another day.

Waiting for their respective debuts, the trade’s been analyzed for immediate and long-term ramifications and where they each currently slot in and impact the roster. I feel that this trade actually points out a flaw in the way we assess a players shooting ability. This trade provides a runway to introduce a skeptical assessment of a player’s shot mechanics and correlation to and dependency on cooperative skills.

Currently it’s almost as a player’s shot is evaluated in a bubble, with clean looks and setup time. Analysts (and scouts) should assess player’s shooting ability under duress, pressure, or arduous situations. How do they shoot when pucks don’t get to the blade, bobbling loose pucks in their skates before setting up? Situations that require quick reactions – rebounds – haphazard slaps and picking pucks out of crowds with the blade tip before releasing ... off balance ... on one leg ... while falling to the ice .. all those situations present adversity to subservient reliance on proper shooting mechanics. This is where the assessment should be made.

How many times will Laine make clean shots from various distances and find consistent success? We’ll dive more into that shortly, but this chart shows his shots and goals volumes by distance.

Patrik Laine Shots and Goals Career
Patrik Laine Shots and Goals Career

Laine hasn’t really wavered much on the percentage share of 5v5 Scoring Chances For split between low, mid and high danger areas.

Even raw counts when split by season and shots/goals, there’s very little variance year over year, but there’s a reliance at 5v5 on low danger shots and goals.

Patrik Laine Career Scoring Chances Percentages
Patrik Laine Career Scoring Chances Percentages

Hopefully, some good resources will emerge out of this post. If there was ever a great case study on a shot and long term ramifications, it would be Patrik Laine

Skills coach, Darryl Belfry outlined two concepts in a very informative Full 60 Podcast with Craig Custance, where he differentiated between skills development and the interactivity/influence of movement into player performance improvement. A secondary distinction was isolated skills development and improvement, not necessarily coaching during teaching players. We are focusing here on skills, not coaching or systems/structure. That isn’t a layer we will be peeling off the onion today.

Pre-shot movement has proven to be beneficial to scoring goals and getting to high danger shooting areas as a secondary parameter. That makes some of the individual shot heat maps problematic as narratives. Hot spots aren’t in the prime locations but also don’t account for much pre-shot movement, or intent by passer and shooter prior to plotting the shot location. There’s a use for heat maps when understanding the specific individual data points, even if quantity indicates repetitiveness – success in non-high danger areas would be influenced by external factors.

We can measure the 22-year-old Laine’s isolated impact using this heat map supplied by Hockey Viz where Micha Blake McCurdy adjusts for external factors as expressed in the image. Pre-shot movement is missing.

Patrik Laine Isolated Impact by HockeyViz
Patrik Laine Isolated Impact by HockeyViz

Power play aside – where his right handed shot thrives on the left half wall, the even-strength map shows the Finn’s hottest shooting spot coloured in red. All these areas, off the right wing just above the face-off circle, just inside the blue line or above the scoring chance home plate area are outside of distinct high danger areas. The reliance on this type of perimeter shooting could be considered problematic.

Will he get the pre-shot movement to set him up for clean looks, and setup time as time passes, or get to those same areas and have the same success, even as teams key in on his tendencies?

Editor’s Note: Drafting is only half the battle! Get an edge on your competition all season long with rankings, projections, trade evaluator, lineup adviser and much more with our NHL Season Tools. Click here to learn more!

Best Shooters

When assessing a player shooting ability we look at shooting percentage from an analytics perspective, and we tend to describe a player's shooting mechanics as crisp, or with a quick release, or heavy and accurate.

This is somewhat counterproductive. NHL players, even at the replacement level, have great shots, given clean looks and set up time. If every player lines up to take clean shots against targets, we would see that they all have relatively quick releases, short wind ups and different degrees of speed and accuracy, but most would have above-average to even possibly an elite shot mechanics.

But this is an imperfect game, to the degree that players rarely have such a clean shot and setup time to be able to tee up and release under best case conditions.

This is where Patrick Laine comes into play. We’ve marveled at his shooting ability exemplified here in this tweet showing his overtime winner in Game 1 of the Winnipeg Jets regular season opener.

2 goals including the OT winner and 1 assist. Quite the game for #NHLJets Laine pic.twitter.com/NvUsO6FJM0

— Michael Remis (@mremis) January 15, 2021

Oh ... that wasn’t a clean snipe?

No, it wasn’t. The second effort was perfect though. That’s the part to properly assess, not the initial wind up.

Whiffing on the initial shot but going back for a second proved to be the winner, he wasn’t as balanced and didn’t have set up time, but fired instinctively for the winner. Maybe coach David Laszlo was on to something by introducing imperfect conditions during practices – an excellent idea and it got me to thinking.

This was a very good episode
Good insight (i really liked the intentional bad passing drills and the 'why do practices need floods and perfect ice')@suihkonen77@TheDavidLaszlo
The Skill Factor: Environment w/David Laszlo https://t.co/8ZiYPLfAGt

— Gus Katsaros🏒 (@KatsHockey) January 15, 2021

What happens as sniper's skills start to decline as aging curves certainly have proven? Shot mechanics may not have the same deteriorative decline, but the peripheral skills that give players the ability to exploit their shot mechanics erode quicker. This is where this idea requires more study. Is it certain whether shot mechanics are affected by overall skill deterioration? And if those skills put players into less positions to use their proper mechanics, how far off are depreciating results and sub-par performances?

Skill corrosion such a skating ability, operating and cruising speeds, situational reaction, all these factor into the effectiveness of a player shot. Good shooters don’t just have good mechanics, they understand how they must get to areas in to which they care able to utilize these skills. Clean shots, with setup time are going to be rare. Scouts and analysts should assess players shots in difficult positions, not from a clean shot, When they’re are off-balance, on one leg (ala the Mark Messier or Jarome Iginla off balance wrist shot), hurried or under pressure (point shots), or making up for other deficiencies in order to generate clean looks. Shooting is not just mechanics, it’s about space and timing.

Patrik Laine and The Big Shot

The legend of Laine’s powerful shot has preceded him to the Blue Jackets, where ex-Habs forward, Max Domi, even commented on his giddiness to observe him shooting the puck in practice.

I tried to think of a way to express this though, but DraglikePull put it most concise. Laine’s finishing issues have been a key driver to his scoring decline.

An interesting thing about Patrik Laine is that his decline in goal scoring seems to be driven almost entirely by finishing. His expected goals have not changed very much from year to year. In particular, he used to convert a way higher rate of shots from outside the "home plate" pic.twitter.com/HDJcZv9xr7

— draglikepull (@draglikepull) January 24, 2021

It doesn’t matter how good your clean your looks, or how much velocity is generated from a quick release, consistently shooting from low percentage areas will eventually obligate a shooter to increase those shot volumes to find similar success year after year. Low percentage shots will ultimately lead to more disappointment than success and frustration by transitions.

Patrik Laine Shots by Danger Zone
Patrik Laine Shots by Danger Zone

Patrik Laine is a good case to study as he takes on a shooter’s role in Columbus, getting top billing and prime ice time as he adds an offensive flair to the Blue Jackets.

When watching him – and other primary shooters – consider their ability to shoot in adverse conditions.